The Samhain-Halloween Connection

Hello again, season of falling temperatures, falling leaves and pumpkin-spiced everything! Many of us naturally seem to want to spend these quickly darkening days warming our bellies, cuddling under blankets and preparing for that wondrous night of frolic and folly that is just around the corner - Halloween. But before you pick those pumpkins and untangle all the cobwebbery, why not take a moment to read up on why so many of us disguise ourselves in costume, collect sweets from our neighbours and gather with others to celebrate spooky things each year on October 31st (and no, it’s not just for the candy grab or scaring the heck out of our loved ones - but those things sure are fun!). A lot of our Halloween traditions stem from the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (pronounced SAH-win), and, despite the dark days ahead, this time of year is one of the most magical of all.
Samhain originated in the parts of the world we now know as Ireland, Scotland, the UK and Northern France by the ancient Celts who lived there roughly 2,000 years ago. To them, Samhain marked the beginning of the Celtic new year which began on November 1. More specifically, it marked the end of the harvest season and the start of the season of darkness. Naturally, the days grew darker as Samhain drew nearer but to the ancient Celts, another perhaps more unnerving darkness lay ahead. This was the threat of evil spirits bringing misfortune to the living (damaging crops, for instance, was a big worry). These entities of the Otherworld returned to earth, and were able to interact with humans on the eve of the new year, as barriers between the physical and spirit worlds were believed to be broken down during this time. A significant aspect of this festival was bonfires; they were lit in villages in order to ward off these ill-mannered beings. In this way, Samhain was an important fire festival bringing light, warmth and comfort to an otherwise frightened people who also faced a long, dark stretch of time ahead. Additionally, ancient Celtic villagers would dress up as animals and monsters to fend off fairies who were expected to visit their communities and commit mischievous acts, such as playing evil pranks or kidnapping ancestors whose visits were also anticipated. Another Samhain tradition in the Middle Ages involved carving turnips into scary-looking “Jack-o-lanterns” and lighting them up from the inside. Later Irish tradition had folks carving pumpkins instead. Nevertheless, Jack-o-lanterns were placed in windows and doorways as a way to frighten evil spirits away.
Now, those are the spooky parts. Samhain did also bring many wondrous, joyous events to the Celts. Villagers undoubtedly enjoyed Samhain, even as the veil thinned and the line between the living and the dead was effectively severed. In the Middle Ages, people reveled in their ability to commune with ancestors, albeit without speaking. They hosted them at a silent dinner known as “Dumb Supper,” and even entertained them with performances and games. Following the dinner, villagers would leave cakes for the dead to come in and enjoy through doors and windows that were left open for them that night. Going back a little further again, the ancient Irish and Scottish participated in something called mumming. This practice involved dressing in costumes and travelling door-to-door to sing songs to the dead.
It’s rather easy to see how Samhain influenced Halloween as we know it today. We, too, carve scary faces into pumpkins and light them up from the inside, placing them on windowsills and front porches. We, too, exchange treats with our neighbours and dress in costumes (though, thankfully, not so much to scare away ghosts that are up to no good as to simply get a rise out of each other). However, like the ancient Celts, as well as those who came before them and many who will come after us, we, too face a long season of darkness that can bring with it some unsavoury effects.
While we may not light up our cold villages with fire to get through the long, dark stretch, we can help keep vibes higher around us with a few tricks (no fairies needed!). We can bring a little sunshine into our darkest nights by lighting a golden Mithras beeswax candle, or use a black obsidian tea light holder to brighten up particularly dark corners in our home while simultaneously tearing down that seasonal illusion that sunny skies will take forever to return. As we dress for cool evenings, we will no doubt wish to swap lighter clothing for warmer, cozier fabrics. This season, April Cornell continues to grace our store with rich velvets like this dark red embroidered velvet tunic, along with warm-coloured floral prints such as those on the adorable shopkeeper vest (a playful nod to earthly treasures, particularly at harvest time!). When cheery vibes are needed, you can place a beautiful honey-toned citrine cluster in any place where you will see it often, or simply nestle it among your autumnal decorations. These are just a few ways to help lighten up this otherwise dark (and often grey) time of year. Contrarily, you may find at times during this season that you really just want to lay with those dark feelings and pamper yourself as you move your way through them. For those moments, our Fleurs teas together with our beautiful matching April Cornell robes, slippers, throws/towels and eye masks will help you hunker down into a more relaxed and accepting state. Whatever your vibe this season, we’ve got you covered.
Though some elements of Samhain were downright scary, there were also traditions that clearly highlighted the positive aspects of this darkening time of year. Like with many things in human life (our modern lives being no exception), there always seems to be a need for balance between darkness and light. Perhaps the reason so many Samhain/Halloween traditions have stuck around with us over the centuries is due in part to our need to feel both elements. We scare each other to remind ourselves that our lives aren’t all scary. And riding out those long, dark nights? Its not always a piece of cake (no pun intended!) but, year after year, we somehow make it through as deep down, somewhere, we know the darkness is just a reminder of those lighter, brighter days that lie ahead. What’s more magical than that?
Written By, Karina Doob